'We meet people and fall in love and when we part they leave marks for us to remember them by. Our lovers sculpt us. They define us, for better or worse...and after the parting we might be scarred. But stronger. Or more fragile, or needy, or angry, or guilty. But never unchanged.'Sweet little George provides the opening narration this week over a beautiful, lilting score and a slow montage of each of the couples we've come to know in the series. Mitchell and Lauren, George and Nina, and Annie and Owen. Owen is shown in flashback viewing Annie's dead body and his reaction is a clue to what happens later in the episode. Annie has decided to haunt Owen in an attempt to dislodge herself from limbo and perhaps also scare the bejesus out of her murderous ex. The neighbours, meanwhile, seem to believe a pot of jam is going to provide the salve for last week's witch-hunt and the associated trauma. Toby Whithouse, creator and this week's writer, is a sly bugger. His narratives creep up on you and just as you think an episode's coasting along, he throws you one curve ball after another. You'll come out of tonight's episode very shaken but you wouldn't think so judging by the very genteel beginning.
...she wants to leave her mark on himAnnie and George try to work out what the best technique would be to scare the living daylights out of Owen. Yes, and they try out the obligatory evil voices. Annie is not convinced and George seems less than impressed. 'I am darkness! I am death!', George suggests, obviously having seen far too many horror movies. It's a gorgeous little scene as the two friends try to make their minds up about what would make a good haunting. Crichlow and Tovey are on exceptional form taking horror movie cliches and mocking them ever so gently. But as George points out, they've no idea what Annie's haunting will do to Owen. Neither does the audience and when it comes it's not exactly the reaction we're expecting. It's subversive, to say the least. The conversation on the sofa gets serious and Whithouse reveals much more about Annie's feelings over what Owen has done to her. For Annie a confession is not enough and she wants to leave her mark on him, to leave him with something to remember her by. Thinking this is extreme, she has her doubts but George reminds her it is a human reaction, very much what the core theme of the show is about, and that being human is often not very nice.
He's the architect of something very different...Sitting at the centre of this poisoned fairy tale is Herrick, 'head' vampire played with oily charm by Jason Watkins who gets an opportunity to, dare I say, flesh out Herrick and offer us a fascinating study in repellent evil. Herrick's masterplan is hinted at when Mitchell is welcomed back into the growing group of blood suckers at the funeral parlour. Lauren quite rightly questions the cliche of using such a place as a headquarters as Herrick announces that hospitals, funeral parlours and cemetaries are 'our churches', to which Lauren responds, 'Plus there's plenty of room for storage'. We'll find out what she means by this. Herrick starts using Mitchell to find him suitable converts at the hospital and Mitchell really isn't aware of what's going on here as he identifies a dying man as the next candidate for undead status. Herrick's reverie in the lift about childhood ambitions to be an architect and have his buildings sprawling across a landscape act as a metaphor for his chosen path. Well, after all, Hitler was fond of monumental buildings as an expression of his id. But Herrick's the architect of something very different, an altogether stranger proposition albeit just as monstrous.
'they're catering to my every need'As Annie lays a trap for Owen, Mitchell meets an old flame, Josie, in the hospital canteen. Josie is played by the very wonderful Clare Higgins and some of you with a taste for the horror genre will remember her from the first, and best, Hellraiser film. Higgins plays the voice of sanity here, her very human story of staying in hotels with Mitchell at the height of Beatlemania weaving its way to the ultimate signifier of mortality, lung cancer. Mitchell believes Herrick's proposition might be a way to save her but he seems to have failed to learn the lessons from Becca, Lauren and young Bernie. Immortality is not a panacea. It's a curse. When Josie is made the offer by Herrick (one decided over a Chinese takeaway whilst waiting for a corpse to reanimate) she's horrified and quite rightly points out one of the greatest virtues of humanity; we are born and we die, we are finite. Those events are what make us human. This is also a big clue as to what the true nature of Herrick's plan is. If the world fills up with vampires, then how, and on what, will they feed? Again, Lauren indicates rather blackly that 'they're catering to my every need' when Mitchell asks her if she's happy with Herrick's mob. Yet a further clue to what exactly is going on.
Meanwhile, Annie has put the fear of God into Owen but it doesn't quite work out the way anyone expected. As he cowers on the floor she launches into her cod horror dialogue and gets a bit carried away. When she reaches the bit about her revenge being of 'diamonds and bones...sapphire...and steel!' it's not surprising Owen is less than impressed. Nice little cult TV nod aside, Owen turns the tables on her and, killer that he is, twists everything round, 'killing' her yet again and describing her limbo existence as a 'sulk'. It is Annie that's left shaken and Owen becomes the ghost haunting her, leaving yet another mark on her. Annie's only other resort is get to Owen's current girlfriend Janey before he does the same to her. It's here we also get a true sense of how distant Mitchell has become from his two friends. He doesn't really care about the human frailties of love now he's embraced his monstrous side. He rounds on Annie and George, belittling their attempts to blend in and describes humanity as 'stupid, thuggish and cruel' , as 'monsters', and not realising that Herrick and his minions are equally possessed of those qualities.
'Who wants some of my chair?!'This all culminates in a quite bonkers finale. After Josie warns him about Mitchell's involvement in the 'New Labour' invasion of the vampires, George manages to get Annie to help him storm Herrick's undertaker's hide-out. There's a heartfelt scene where he rallies her even though she's still suffering from the fallout of Owen's thoroughly nasty attack on her after attempting to tell Janey what she's let herself in for. Whilst Mitchell finally discovers the blood farm in the undertaker's cellar - a very chilling scene of human devastation - an hilarious fight breaks out upstairs with Seth where Annie belts him with a chair. Fortunately for our less than capable heroes, George's Star Of David medallion repels Seth and George gets a lucky punch in. And it's very funny when he whinges about the bruise. The showdown between Herrick and Mitchell is tense and the performances from Turner and Watkins are electric. Herrick defends his 'dry run' by summoning up historical precedents but then that's the clarion call of all would be dictators. He offers no compromise other than to personally put Mitchell and his friends out of their misery. As Herrick prepares to stake poor Mitchell through the heart, George bursts in, furniture held aloft and yells the best line of the episode, 'Who wants some of my chair?!' A wonderfully funny moment that defuses the mounting tension. Cornered by Seth and the others, it looks as if the game's up but then there's that brilliant bit of redemption for Lauren as she stakes Seth through the back.
This leads us into the final scenes. I thought Lauren's self-sacrifice was very moving. 'The me that used to get hay fever, the me that was scared her parents would find out she smoked, she's almost gone', she pleads. This takes us right back to George's opening narrative about how people are never left unchanged by love. Her vampire addiction has wiped out her true identity and the last vestiges of her conscience seem to be asking for one last redemptive act. The scoring and performances on this scene as Lauren is staked by Mitchell are nothing short of superb. Whithouse manages to give a rather unlikeable, needy, impulsive woman a fittingly glorious end where she at least recognises Herrick for what he is and finally welcomes death. And just when you come down from the peak of emotion, we then get the confrontation with Owen and that 'secret' that quite clearly drives him out of his mind and to confession, the appearance of death's door (a tour de force of acting from Tovey, Turner and Crichlow) and Herrick making a house call with a stake for Mitchell. The last ten minutes are some of the most deliriously exciting telefantasy I've seen in years. It's heartfelt, sad, horrifying, thrilling and such a twisted cliffhanger. I was left quite breathless as the screen exploded into white.
So, did Annie leave her friends and actually go through death's door, is Mitchell dead and will Herrick succeed in converting the world? Cripes, I can't wait for Episode 6. And where the hell is that Series 2 re-commission BBC3? We need to know.
Cathode Ray Tube Being Human Episode Five